Meet Rory, a bright, motivated high school junior who can definitely see himself as a doctor (or lawyer or professor or CEO…) someday. Rory, a three-sport athlete and AP student, has made the most of his school experience so far in an effort to present as an outstanding applicant to any college. Aware of the considerable benefits of prepping for the SAT & ACT early in junior year, Rory and his family begin tutoring in September with an eye on the December exams…
Junior year these days demands far more of teenagers than most adults realize. Ambitious students don’t just take on advanced classes but also juggle a slew of activities in which they must show commitment, leadership, and excellence. Extracurriculars can be particularly stressful during pressure points in a season, especially when coaches demand absolute acquiescence to uncertain practice schedules.
While Rory was excited about preparing for the SAT & ACT, everyone involved soon learned that motivation wasn’t enough. Even early in the year, Rory dealt with hours of homework every night. Most afternoons, different ones every week, were committed to football practice and games. On weekends, rather than sleeping in, Rory volunteered for a cause that meant a lot to him and also took Driver’s Ed. Where in this hectic schedule would test prep fit?
The penultimate secondary school grade contains so many powerful lessons for students, but the one most don’t recognize is PRIORITIZATION. We understand the values of commitment and dedication, of following through and doing what we say we’re going to do. Sometimes, though, we forget that, no matter how much we want to do, we only have so much energy, attention, and capacity to spend in a day.
Some frenzied students prioritize activity over accomplishment, valuing quantity over quality. But this problem is easily remedied: colleges are much less enamored with “well-rounded” students, placing more value on specialists. Quality wins out over quantity just about every single time.
More problematic are those who demand excellence of themselves in everything they do. this otherwise admirable trait becomes a crippling liability in a student with too much on her plate. How, after all, can you earn straight A’s in every honors class while captaining field hockey, raising money for the local women’s shelter, and recording an original punk album?
As we know, multitasking just does not work. Also, our brains demand both sufficient sleep and occasional idleness for optimal function. So the only solution to save an overachiever from the inevitable stress cascade is prioritization. Not every activity or commitment can be the highest priority. Rank each one from the top, considering not just what matters in the present but what will matter most in the future. You can also sort tasks by commitment to figure out which ones can be juggled and which demand complete attention.
For example, three-sport athletes find fitting in prep challenging until they realistically consider which, if any, of the sports they’ll play in college. For most students, earning their best test scores matters far more in college admissions than excelling in an ancillary activity.
Rational prioritization makes all the difference in minimizing stress and ultimately ensuring success where it matters most. Did Rory modify his priorities to bring sanity to an insane schedule? The more important question is, “Will you?”